Bassekou Kouyate is a modern master of the Ngoni, a ceremonial stringed instrument from Western Africa that’s a little like a banjo, with a drum over the resonating chamber, and a little like the Chinese Erhu, in that it can be bowed or plucked. He and his band, Ngoni ba, have attracted attention for doing crazy things like electrifying the Ngoni and playing blues & rock riffs on said electrified instruments.
Segu Blue was their first record, and produced by London based ethnomusicologist and radio presenter Lucy Durán.
The confluence of sympathetic European production values and African talent make it a compelling listen.
I could go on (and on) about the complex polyrhythmic web of interactions between the Ngoni and percussion. Or exclaim over the beautiful vocal harmonies, but really you should just listen to the album for yourself.
Ikonostasis by Kari Ikonen, Mathias Eick, Ra-Kalam Bob Moses, and Louis Sclavis.
Duo and trio settings with Ikonen on Piano, Prepared Piano, and Synthesizer.
Despite some passages of, I’m sure, well meaning ethno-tourism, this is a very pleasant release. I especially enjoy the prepared piano pieces and duets between Sclavis on clarinet and Ikonen on Synthesizer, with Sclavis matching Ikonen’s alien tones and bent notes. Evocative music, food for thought.
Sparsely arranged percussion and bass driven groove based funk with Jazz, Soul, and Reggae influences.
Saxophonist Matt Nelson posted a photo of recent vinyl score of this album, with the comment, “Oh yes. One of the best ever.” So, I thought I should check it out.
And, man, it is great! Once one of these tracks kick in, you get the feeling they could go forever, the groove is so powerful. Yet the playing is relaxed and poised, with every song given the time it needs to develop organically. I also like the feel of space conveyed by the production and engineering.
Just makes you feel good to listen. I bet they were kick-ass live. “But it’s all right, we can still go home.”
Since I’ve been recently playing with digital tools for recording and manipulating sound, it is interesting to listen through a release like Xe where nearly every track involves some sort of effect or looping.
I can’t quite decide how I feel about listening to albums where it almost seems more like a showcase for digital effects than a recording of people playing together.
Incidentals by Tim Berne’s Snakeoil aka Tim Berne, Ryan Ferreira, Matt Mitchell, Oscar Noriega, and Ches Smith (with special guest David Torn on a couple tracks). This is the 4th Snakeoil album on ECM and the 5th overall, if you count the Anguis Oleum live CD included with the Berne/Byram Book “Spare”. Also, the 2nd Snakeoil album with guitars.
I’ve been watching Berne for, uh, I don’t know how long. I guess, the first release which really caught my eye was the anxiety inducing, yet hilarious, “Fractured Fairy Tales” from 1989. So, crap, at least 28 years.
I was initially hesitant about the addition of Ferreira’s guitar to the Snakeoil mix, but I think they have really found a place for it to work and add tension and drama to the group’s compositions.
This is a great addition to Snakeoil and Berne’s body of work, and maybe Snakeoil’s best album so far.
If you’re in the Bay Area, or mobile, Snakeoil will be playing SF Jazz’ Henderson Lab on Saturday, September 23rd.
Verisimilitude by Tyshawn Sorey, Corey Smythe, and Chris Tordini.
According to the dictionary, “verisimilitude” means, “the appearance of being true or real”. This is the second album from Sorey’s trio with Smythe on piano and Tordini on bass.
The thing I really enjoy about this release, is their use of space and silence. Makes it a really great album to contemplate. They aren’t filling every second with expression and noise. But it isn’t lacking in expression, either.
I’m not super familiar with Yusef Lateef. I know he was a multi-instrumentalist who was one of the first late-20th Century Jazz artists to embrace Middle Eastern and Asian musical influences.
This album is primarily about embracing the influences of African American folk, work, and popular idioms in Jazz.
In the 40s and 50s, it wasn’t really cool to overtly play the blues if you were a Jazz Artist. A lot of early Jazz and Blues artists were reviled for what was viewed by younger Jazz artists as “Uncle Tom-ing” or pandering to white audiences for commercial gain. Fletcher Henderson and Louis Armstrong come to mind, as artists who were thought of in this manner.
However, when artists in the Folk, Skiffle, and British Invasion rediscovered and revisited African American folk traditions, African American Jazz and popular artists also began to revisit these musics and traditions.
At best, this album sounds like a person joyfully rediscovering his musical roots. At worst, (Moon Cup,) from the remove of the 21st Century, it sounds like a dilettante artist parodying Asian American speech and musical traditions without having the remotest idea about the rules or structures of those traditions.
It’s always interesting to see where a band goes on its second album.
In the case of Downtown Boys, “getting better” seems to mean: more chord changes, a less prominent place for the sax, occasional synths, and more overdubbing.
Not bad, but instead of moving towards more dissonance and chaos, they seem to be moving towards a sort of Midnight Oil-esque fusion of politics and pop music. “Promissory Note” is probably my favorite track.